HL Deb 06 November 2002 vol 640 cc714-6

2.53 p.m.

Lord Goodhart

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will review the circumstances surrounding the prosecution of Paul Burrell and report to Parliament.

The Attorney-General (Lord Goldsmith)

My Lords, a full statement was made by the prosecution in court last Friday and the facts of the case are already known. I have placed a copy of that statement in the Libraries of both Houses. The Crown Prosecution Service will be considering carefully the lessons of what has happened. But, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has stated, there is no need for an inquiry. It is important to recognise that this was a unique set of circumstances.

Lord Goodhart

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord will be well aware that this case has aroused great public concern. Does he not feel that the best way to allay that concern would be to conduct as soon as possible a full and speedy investigation of the facts surrounding the case and to publish a report? Does he agree that many questions are not answered by the statement made by the prosecution and that they need to be answered? They include: when and by whom was the decision to prosecute made; was that decision kept under regular review once it had been taken; were the DPP or the Attorney-General involved in the review process and, if so, when; did the prosecution at any stage try to claim public interest immunity and, if so, for what material; and was the Crown Prosecution Service put under undue pressure by the police to proceed with the prosecution?

Lord Goldsmith

My Lords, the noble Lord has asked a large number of questions. I shall deal with those which are most important. First, he asked whether the case was kept under review. The answer is: absolutely. Leading counsel was instructed and in this case, as in any other, the prospects of success were kept under review by counsel and by the CPS. The noble Lord asked about the PII issue. There was never any question in my mind of withholding disclosure of the information and yet continuing with the prosecution, and no attempt was made to do so. No Minister was asked to give a PII certificate or to sign one; a draft certificate was not ever prepared; and nor was any consideration given by anyone to preparing such a certificate to place before the judge. That is not an issue. The judge agreed to postpone the disclosure of information until further inquiries had been carried out and a. fuller picture obtained so as to enable properly informed decisions to be made, in particular, as to the future conduct of the trial.

Lord Campbell-Savours

My Lords, why did not the police ask the Queen about the detail of the conversation with Burrell? Was my noble and learned friend consulted by the DPP prior to the decision to pull the case?

Lord Goldsmith

My Lords, in my belief, neither the prosecution nor the police are to be criticised in any way for not approaching Her Majesty. The fact is that, in a detailed 39-page statement served by Mr Burrell on the police as a response to their questions, no mention was made of any meeting with Her Majesty. Earlier this year, he served a defence case statement, which is supposed to set out his general defence to identify what further things the prosecution should disclose. He gave an account of a meeting but did not indicate that he had told Her Majesty about this matter. So far as concerns my role, I was not asked to advise. I did not give a view as to whether the case should continue. I was kept informed, as I am in relation to high-profile cases, by a brief report provided to me on a monthly basis.

Lord Carlisle of Bucklow

My Lords, as the other Lord Carlisle, QC, in this House, perhaps I may thank my namesake for the most welcome and substantial publicity that he has achieved for us both. But, on a serious note, perhaps I may put to the Attorney-General that the simple answer to the theories of conspiracy in this case is for him to accept, as I believe he does, and to state that this was merely a classic example of a case which, under full exposure of cross-examination in the Crown Court, collapsed, and collapsed to the extent that the prosecution felt it improper to continue.

Lord Goldsmith

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on his new, second, career. I agree with what he said. This was an entirely proper way to proceed. The information having come to light, even though Mr Burrell had not mentioned it himself, it was proper for the prosecution to consider it, take it into account and take the decision as independent prosecutors. Leading counsel did so and it would not be proper to continue with the case.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

My Lords, if there was no application for public interest immunity under the accepted procedure, what was the prosecutor doing locked together with the judge for a period of time? Under what law, rule or practice was that permissible? What were they discussing? Was it social arrangements?

Lord Goldsmith

My Lords, the prosecutor believed that it was right, and so did the judge because she agreed with it, to postpone disclosure in the public interest while further inquiries and a decision were being made as to the future conduct of the action. I believe it is right to describe that technically as a public interest immunity application. I do not believe that it is what most of us would think of as a public interest immunity application—that is, an attempt to keep back the evidence but continue with the trial. As I said, there was no question in my mind of keeping back that information and continuing with the trial.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, will my noble friend say what precedents there are for the defence counsel not to have been included in the discussion that took place in this case?

Lord Goldsmith

My Lords, there are many precedents for that. The judge was satisfied that what was ta king place was proper. One such occasion is the making of a public interest immunity application.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick

My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General explain to the House whether there was ever any hard evidence that Mr Burrell had sold or intended to sell or dispose of for gain any of the items in question? If not, why was the prosecution brought?

Lord Goldsmith

My Lords, clearly evidence of sale is not necessary in theft cases. Independent lawyers and independent leading counsel considered that there was proper evidence to proceed without evidence that property was ever sold. The principal plank of the case was that Mr Burrell had retained property for four years without apparently telling anyone that he had done so.

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